Do you know those sounds that absolutely drive you crazy like rubbing a towel on carpet or scratching a chalkboard? To me, this question, “where is everybody,” is the equivalent of that. I cannot stand it when a youth worker, paid or volunteer, acts as if they are disappointed in attendance. Sure you were expecting a few more, but why should the people who came feel bad for coming?
Showing that you are disappointed in attendance at a program or event communicates these three things:
1. Sure it’s nice that you are here, but it would be better if there were other people here too. It’s not good enough for just you guys to have come.
2. Well, I guess we can still sort of have fun with this small crowd. We’ll just make it work if we can.
3. The effort I put into this lesson/program/event is now going to be wasted on a group this small.
One of the biggest problems that arises when youth workers say stuff like this is that we kill morale. Students have come to have a great experience and now they find out that this experience was dependent upon other kids coming too.
The other big problem with this way of thinking is that we as youth workers miss a huge opportunity to demonstrate how excited we are that anyone shows up to our stuff. Instead of being excited that we can now have more one on one interaction, we lament the fact that we will have to manufacture more energy for our activities to work.
I get that having a smaller crowd than expected can be discouraging and can force us to change plans. Last year we had almost 40 students sign up for a weekend event, one that required more than three months of planning. In the end only 18 students actually attended the event. I of course declared that my last day in youth ministry forever in the whole universe. Eventually I calmed down and realized that we now had an opportunity to really invest in a group of kids in a way that would not have been possible with 40. Did it mean making a few changes to the schedule and events? Sure. Did it mean that I was a failure or that my career was over? Nope.
Rather than focus on what is totally out of your control, i.e. attendance, it is much better to focus on leaving each event knowing that you made a real impact and that you helped a student have a better relationship with God. I have found great solace in planning events where we can have an effective event even if five or six kids show up. And when the numbers are small, I never want to act like it’s not good enough.